Arkansas Governor Introduces $ 6 Billion State Budget Proposal

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The Republican Governor of Arkansas has proposed a new state budget that includes funding for higher education, workforce development, and services for people with disabilities.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson presented his roughly $ 6 billion fiscal year 2023 budget to lawmakers at a Joint Budget Committee meeting on Tuesday. He said the proposal reflects a 3.3% increase over spending the previous year.

“It’s higher than I would prefer, but the needs of our state and our healthy financial situation are supporting this increase. The budget also provides $ 175 million in built-in surpluses, which gives us the cushion we need in this time of economic fluctuations, ”Hutchinson said.

The budget surplus would be on top of the $ 1.2 billion already in the state’s catastrophic reserve fund. The proposal includes funding increases for state soldiers, higher education, and infrastructure projects across Arkansas.

Hutchinson said one of the biggest allocations in the budget is $ 57 million to help avoid rate increases in the public school employee health insurance system.

“There is also $ 50 million left in the reserve fund earmarked for this purpose. And as you consider this year’s budget, I think there is sufficient funding to ensure that our public school employee health insurance plan is protected, ”Hutchinson said.

This would be accompanied by an increase of almost $ 70 million in funding for public schools and an additional $ 28.5 million for educational institutions. Hutchinson said he also hopes to allocate around $ 38 million to help reduce wait times for disabled Arkansans seeking state services.

Other priorities included in the proposal include a salary increase for entry-level state soldiers, which Hutchinson says is necessary to ensure appropriate staffing levels.

“Our recruiting numbers are dropping and we are currently low in our region for state police salaries. This will raise our starting salaries to second in the Southern States region, and it will set an example for local law enforcement and remind them of their responsibilities to ensure they have competitive salaries, ”said Hutchinson.

The salary increases would equate to a starting salary of around $ 52,000 for new state soldiers, with senior officials also eligible for a salary increase. But Rep. Jim Wooten, R-Beebe, argued that new police officers should be paid even more.

“We have to compensate them for that money and we have to look at the top versus what we’re paying for the bottom because they are the ones who put their lives at risk every day,” Wooten said. noted. “And $ 52,000 a year, is your life worth $ 52,000 a year?” “

The budget also reflects a nearly $ 70 million increase in funding for public schools, as well as $ 5.3 million for “historically underfunded” higher education institutions at Arkansas Tech University, Southern Arkansas University and the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.

The governor’s proposal will be considered by lawmakers ahead of a budget session of the legislature starting on February 14.

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